America’s mainstream media is presenting a near-consensus view that House Republicans, and especially Tea Party radicals, bear sole responsibility for this week’s partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government. This remarkably simplistic perspective ignores the realities of President Barack Obama’s approach to governance since he took office. Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats merit at least equal blame for the shutdown—and the longer it endures, the more likely it is that Americans will draw the same conclusion.
The conventional wisdom is that Republican opponents of Obamacare are fighting a lost cause. Since Democrats control the White House and the Senate, this argument goes, they cannot hope to succeed in defunding the health care law. In reality, however, neither the President nor Congressional Democrats can force House Republicans to fund specific programs—and if Republicans can remain unified, they need not capitulate.
Moreover, while it is natural that the media and the public should initially focus on Mr. Obama’s Republican foes—no one likes the shutdown’s maddening and expensive collateral damage—their attention is sure to broaden over time. Voters will begin to ask themselves why the President and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid are unable to find a compromise and whether they are really doing everything possible to resolve the crisis or, alternatively, whether they are primarily focused on scoring political points at the expense of small businesses, cancer patients, and vacationers. The more flexibility Republicans are prepared to demonstrate, the more Mr. Obama’s “my way or the highway” rhetoric will sink into the minds of the American people.